PANDEMIC NEWS UPDATE: 2020 IAC goes virtual and free; U.S. bill requires airline aid transparency; preps for space launches proceed

Our weekly compendium of coronavirus news

• The October International Astronautical Congress will be fully virtual and free for all attendees, organizers at the International Astronautical Federation announced today.

• U.S. airlines carried 51% fewer passengers in March compared to the previous year, “the lowest level of air travel in almost two decades,” according to a report yesterday from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Passenger numbers were “slightly” lower during September 2001, the month of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

• A provision in the $3 trillion relief bill House Democrats unveiled yesterday would require the Treasury Department to publish a list of all U.S. air carriers receiving aid under the CARES Act and how much money they received. If enacted, the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions, or HEROES, Act, would fund initiatives including hazard pay for workers deemed essential and another round of stimulus checks the Treasury distributed under the $2.2 trillion CARES Act passed in late March.

• The Pentagon inspector general will investigate the U.S. Navy’s handling of coronavirus outbreaks on its ships, the office announced Monday. The Navy and a congressional committee are separately investigating the April outbreak aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier that led to the controversial dismissal of the ship’s commanding officer, Brett Crozier.

• United Kingdom airlines warned Sunday that U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plan to implement a 14-day quarantine for travelers entering the region spells further disaster for air carriers that have seen demand plummet in response to COVID-19. “We all — including Government — need to adapt to the new normal but closing off air travel in this way is not the way to achieve this,” industry group Airlines UK wrote in a statement.

• U.S. space launch providers are moving forward with two launches this weekend from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. On Saturday, a United Launch Alliance Atlas V is scheduled to launch the U.S. Air Force’s reusable X-37B spaceplane on its sixth mission. SpaceX is targeting Sunday for the eighth launch of its Starlink broadband satellites, which are launched in batches of 60.

• Three Democratic members of Congress expressed their disapproval with Frontier Airlines after the carrier announced a “More Room” seating option in which travelers can pay more to guarantee an unoccupied middle seat during a flight. “The flying public should not be charged extra to stay healthy on flights,” reads the letter signed by Rep. Steve Cohen, Tenn.; Rep. Jesús García, Ill.; and Sen. Ed Markey, Mass.

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PANDEMIC NEWS UPDATE: 2020 IAC goes virtual and free; U.S. bill requires airline aid transparency; preps for space launches proceed